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Last night, this commercial appeared during the broadcast of American Idol on Fox 5. We, here at the office, have all had mixed reactions.

What do you think? Is it racist? Should we be offended? Just curious…


WATCH it here:

Ok, so I don’t ACTUALLY think this Old Navy commercial is racist. But let’s just pick this apart for a moment.

All this talk about us being a post-racial society now that we have a Black president is clearly a load of BS. Everyone knows it. Obviously, it’s a major step in the right direction that we were able to elect Barack Obama to the presidency. But our work is not done. In fact, it’s only really just begun, as the prez never fails to remind us.

That said, the racist, black-white society we live in has trained us (by “us” I mean all people who are not white) to be a little skeptical. When it remains in the recent collective memory that Black folks couldn’t vote, couldn’t ride in the front of the bus, and couldn’t drink at the same water fountains as white people, it’s sort of expected no? When your own government, the same government who exploited and abused you and was now institutionalizing the discriminatory practices that STILL AFFECT US TODAY, and remains hostile towards you for generations, it’s hard not to give a side-eye to things like an otherwise benign Old Navy commercial.

Yea, it’s obnoxious and counterproductive to cry “RACE” every time something like this makes an appearance. Buying into what has become a profitable enterprise for most major media outlets, stoking public outrage, is useless and not at all revolutionary. I hear you, BlackPlanet.

But honestly, a naked Black female mannequin?

Among the many vitriolic stereotypes leveraged against the African-American community, one of the most incendiary has been the hypersexualization of Black men and women. Black men are always portrayed as the savage, sexually-superior antithesis to all things decent about white men. Black women are thought of as subhuman, irresponsible, and promiscuous. This is not MY opinion, bear in mind. There is a well-documented historical context to these assumptions. Why do you think one of the most infamous cases coming out of the Post-Reconstruction South was the Scottsboro case, where eight young Black males were accused of gang-raping two white women? Of course, after over 40 years of controversy, the truth was finally revealed that the women made up the whole accusation. It was precisely that deep-seated notion that Black men and women were capable of such lewd and sexual crimes, the idea that it was in their nature to be so oversexualized that a crime like this could not be put past them, that forced these men to wear the Scarlet letter for most of their adult lives.

So when a Black woman sees a mannequin meant to resemble her, from the hairstyle to skin color, to the twangy regional dialect, it’s hard to separate the mannequin from what it represents. It becomes difficult to understand why she is stripped of her clothing and left standing there with her “plastic” unmentionables censored. It just seems a little unnecessary doesn’t it? Why even go there?

Additionally, the bizarre way in which the white man and barking dog respond to the suddenly naked wife and mother raises an eyebrow. How interestingly cryptic that the “predator” is now the white man and the Black man is trying to protect his wife from his roving eye. This smacks of a “Black body as spectacle” mentality, something we used to see a lot more of when the Negritude movement was all the rage, which then influenced the Harlem Renaissance, etc.

Anyway, my bottomline here is that, while I personally am not going to read too much into this commercial, I can understand completely why Black women viewing this ad might feel at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, outraged.